How The Paperless Office Might Happen

You probably don't need to look any further than your own desk to realise that the oft-discussed vision of a paperless office hasn't happened yet. This infographic highlights survey results that suggest we might be getting closer to that vision.

Three key factors make using less paper more likely: well-accepted document standards, the popularity of remote working, and the use of cloud-based services. The decline of print media also means less paper to recycle in that department (there was a time when newspaper was my biggest recycling challenge; these days, it seems to be bottles and tins). The survey data was collected by Nitro PDF, who produce Lifehacker's favourite free PDF reading software.

Check out the full infographic below, see our guide to going paperless for more specific tactics, and share your own thoughts on going paperless in the comments.

[via Nitro PDF]


    Most of these reductions don't change the way that people in an office work with information. Until we get big flexible plastic handheld screens that allow us to work with multiple documents laid out in useful spatial arrangements that can be annotated and otherwise manipulated the amount of paper on the desk won't change greatly.

      I have 5 monitors and use PDF extensively - So your world is here now

        Which is worse for the environment? 5 screens per person in an office, or stacks of paper?

        Far from it. I have about 12 years experience working with writeable tablet devices, but while they improve on the regular monitor experience, they're still a world away from being a good place to work with a lot of texts and data sources.

        Most tablets are smaller than an A4 page which means a lot of extra panning and scrolling. And even then you can't quickly switch attention between pages and documents. It's like you have a 2D view of a small part of a 3D workspace.

        When I'm designing, working on screen is fine towards the end of the process, but doesn't replace the ease or speed of paper.

        For those people working with highly constrained text or numerical sources, there is perhaps less need. Move outside that world and the paperless experience is crippling.

    Newspaper is still my biggest recycling challenge - but then I do work at a newspaper company...

    Many companies like Lawyers and Accountants won't go paperless and a paperless office is a myth. I prefer to call the next generation 'Less Paper' environment instead of paperless.

      Some accountants wont go. I have been paperless for 8+ years. The only reason I'm not 100% paperless is legislation and some clients like to get final result in paper

    I've reduced the amount of bills my office recieves by opting for emailed accounts. The problem no being that they get printed to get filed because I am yet to find a suitable & flexible electronic storage method for storing, organising and easily finding invoices/receipts.

    I would love a software solution that would scrape my email looking for receipts/invoices and using a set of rules automatically tag what business it was from and the date as a minimum. With the ability to add adjective tags, ie stationery, advertising, subscriptions.

    I hardly use any paper as it is. My greatest struggle is finding a digital alternative for toilet paper.

    less paper, not paperless
    Government job means records need to be kept....lots of records

    reduce toilet paper for 6.1% !! Is there a new app to wipe my ass for me that I haven't heard about yet?

      If there is, I'd like to hear about it. Or perhaps bidets have come back into fashion.

    I've been 'paperless' at home since 2004, but the office is different a different game. I'd divide our use into four broad categories:

    -'Scrap' use. This is just things that are printed out because somebody wants to read it on paper instead of a screen. it's gradually declining, but it'll take a while

    -Useless work. This is things that start on a computer, get printed, and then get entered back into a computer system. It still happens a lot with timesheets, leave request forms, surveys and so on, but it's the easiest category to get rid of.

    -Things that need to be signed. We have quite a bit of official documentation that needs signatures, and I cant see any easy way to avoid printing it and scanning it in again.

    -Handouts and reports. Until every single person has a hand-held note-taking advice that communicates very easily with all others, we'll be printing stacks of reports for meetings and booklets for people taking courses.

    Here in WA all paramedics are issued with iPads - all documentation out on the road is done electronically now. We still have paper for backup reasons, but all in all the iPads are great - and the fact that the data is already digital means easier access down the line (for clinical, educational, legal reasons etc). I love it!

    We need customers to sign off on work and haven't found a suitable tablet/touch screen device to achieve that yet with out spending a few thousand dollars per employee

    I work in a paperless office. Everyone has an 11 inch Macbook Air and docks into a hub that provides a 23 inch monitor / USB hub / keyboard / mouse / wired connection. Every meeting space has either a smart board or multiple (large) screens or a projector. There is a wired and wifi connection and everyone has a key to acces network drives remotely.
    It is ABW (Activity Based Working), so everyone finds a desk in the morning, but packs up if they are away for longer than two hours (we have lockers). Notes are made with One Note and synchronised depending on the teams you work in / attendees of the meeting. Multifunction printer are stationed around, but each manager receives an itemised bill of team members that print, discouraging printing that isn't essential. The statistics of paper consumption (and other environmental savings) are projected onto a wall at the reception.
    It is not paperless, but it's as close as you can get. Personally, I print out an A2 sheet once a month for quick reference on my projects. It is rare to see the printer used. I would guess about 50% of people have an A5 notebook, but that's more of a legacy item from the previous office. The future is happening, and it's actually surprisingly convenient (when all the tech works).

      @Neil Thanks for sharing. You have given me some ideas. Our office, while using Activity Based Working has not embraced all the other paper reduction techniques to support it. This results in people talking about reducing paper, but not being able to. Also, no ideas are shared properly. I am trying to find what works for me andy share my ideas with others. Using an iPad and scanning paper into my InBox. Remote accesso between devices is a bit of tough one. I can't really use DropBox for security reasons.

    The key issues I see are:

    1) Who has time to learn a whole new system? (That's them speaking, not me)
    2) There is no universal way to sign a document online. Plus I'm not sure if there are even laws regarding signatures on digital objects
    3) It's more expensive to buy a computer than it is to buy a printer to go with your existing (10 year old) PC.

    I'm trying to go paperless -- it's a long process, but I'm getting there. What I would love is a cheap digital scribble pad for jotting down names, numbers etc. I know there is the Boogie Board, but it's white ink on a black surface and with my eyesight problems, it's not a good solution. Plus the one that saves images is $120 from the US!

    The rest are either "tech demos" or seeming to be vapourware.

    I work in the copier business... trust me it'll be a long time before we get a paperless office. Lifehacker readers, myself included, may try to go paperless, but the rest of the world might be lagging behind

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